Peru: Peru Rail and Salineras de Maras
Alas, everyone! The third post of my Peru series. I would like to blame this ridiculous delay on my current one hand situation I seem to be in. About two weeks ago I fell and broke my wrist in two places and have been on the mend ever since. Pretty much that means I’m slow to accomplish anything from things like washing my fair to typing on the computer. I apologize for any typos I don’t catch, as typing with one hand isn’t very easy and I keep making tons of mistakes.
But here I am! Alive and intact (for the most part) and ready to share with you the last huge chuck of my Peru trip. Warning: this post is very long.
After our fears of a rainy Machu Picchu came true we stayed one more night at EcoPackers ($14). What I forgot to mention on my last post of Aguascalientes is that both Analeise and I found our llama sweaters here! Success! It is so cozy and I will always cherish it! The next morning we gathered our small packs and made our way to the train station. Somehow in the process of getting to the station I managed to lose my phone without my knowledge until I was sitting at the station. After checking the restrooms and asking around I stormed off back to the only stop we made: a small currency exchange that Analeise bought water and I bought a magnet in. Would you believe it but right on the counter where I left it was my phone, in plain daylight, with no one around. Grabbing it, I bolted off once again in fear of missing my train. The thing is, I’m already out of shape and running at that altitude (Google says it’s 6,693 feet) was no easy task. I arrived huffing and puffing but successfully holding my phone with time to spare.
Analeise and I both feel we had the perfect amount of both money-pinching and splurging on this trip. After the hydroelectrica trek and mountain hike, we were so excited to sit comfortably on Peru Rail for a couple of hours. The train ride was remarkable: free snacks and beverages and the beautiful Peruvian countryside. My favorite part of the journey was seeing this very old lady standing outside the train tracks waving to us as it went by. It helped me be reminded that simple friendliness goes a long, long way.
For money and time efficiency we chose to stop in Ollantaytambo (9,160 feet) in the Sacred Valley and I am so glad that we did. Here we sat on the outdoor patio of the restaurant with the best view of the square. I wish I had jotted down the name but if you visit the center, look for the second floor outside table with this view. I had risotto and it was the creamiest filling food I could have asked for. Fast forward a bit: Although delicious, this I learned was not what I should have been eating. Later that day I would begin to have stomach aches. Our extremely helpful hostel manager, Dan from Austria, would later inform me that at that altitude our stomachs do not digest heavy foods as quickly as they normally would. So this was my form of altitude sickness. Avoiding the cocoa tea, as we didn’t know if Googles web searches on positively showing on a drug test (remember we’re flight attendants) were true, I instead opted to religiously drink Anise tea, which helped soothe all my stomach aches. Dan informed me to eat lighter foods such as soups and salmon, which I did for the rest of the trip except my last night in Lima (sometimes you just need a burger).
Now let’s back up again, after our calm, scenic lunch with the occasional moment of “we’re eating lunch in a small town in PERU!” flabbergasting us, we jumped into a collectivo to Cusco. Grabbing our packs and saying goodbye to Pariwana (the best hostel we stayed at), we walked (though it felt like a trek with our packs) up to CuscoPackers ($24 for two nights). The hostel certainly had its own perks: for starters the view. A free simple breakfast, coffee and tea always ready, a living room, a bar, the lobby which normally had a few stragglers hanging out using the free WiFi and bonding. Dan, the reception manager, was definitely a highlight of this place. From the very start (seriously before we could even get comfortable) he shared with us knowledge on a map on everything we didn’t know about Cusco and its excursions. He showed us which ATM’s didn’t have a charging fee, where to eat for 5 soles, where to avoid food poisoning, which coffee shops we should try, etc. Everything we needed to know he graciously shared the information with us. Out of every hotel/hostel I’ve ever stayed at, he is undoubtedly the only person that has made me feel like he was genuinely concerned about us not only as a guest but as a friend. He even learns everyone’s names!
The main problem with CuscoPackers is where it’s situated. It was about a 20 minute walk from the center, which does not sound bad, but with its steep incline and in a less touristic area, we were warned not to walk back after 10PM and instead to call a taxi.
As it was, our first night there we ate a simple meal (sopita) and went back to the room. The only other main complaint I had of this hostel was the rooms: it smelled so much of sewage it was almost unbearable. Thankfully we weren’t there during the following afternoon as we made our way to the Salineras of Maras.
In the center we caught another collectivo (which was becoming my favorite form of transportation!) to Maras Moray. Then when we arrived there was only one car offering rides to the salt pools. Although it appeared a little sketchy it seemed that was also our only option. Trust is a beautiful thing and soon enough we arrived at the Salineras de Maras in the Sacred Valley (10 soles entry).
There are thousands of individual pools, all owned by families from the local community. and often you can see an owner harvesting their pool. I know I will butcher the background and process of the salt pools so I’ll let Atlas Obscura explain it.
“Salt is harvested from the patchwork of shallow pools via a process of evaporation. A natural spring feeds a salt-rich stream that flows down into the pools, which are then opened and dammed individually as needed. Once one of the pools is filled, the water is allowed to evaporate, and then the salt crystals are scraped off the ground with simple instruments. Then the whole process begins again. (For more information: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/salt-pans-of-maras)
The vastness of this natural, historic (it goes back to Incan times) process is outstanding. Here is a cycle of harvesting salt that has adjusted to modern times and opened its doors to tourism while maintaining its cultural hold. Go ahead and purchase the packaged salt sold here and support the local community!
After the salt pools, we asked our driver (Who wait for you if you pay them a little extra) where we could go for lunch. “¿Turistico o local?” “Local!” Unfortunately the little restaurant on the second floor of a relatively abandoned building in the center of Moray was closed for lunch. Being the cheap travelers we were trying to be, we turned down the offer of another ride to other food and opted confidently to walk. Well…we walked. And we walked along empty streets. Finally after no signs of any food and very empty stomachs we went back to the center and who would we find but our taxi driver speaking to a woman cooking something. Honestly, we didn’t really care what she was cooking or where we ate it- we were that fatigued. Her restaurant appeared to be located in what once was her living room now converted to eating area and shop. Now, y’all, on this entire journey my Spanish came through successfully but the minute this very, very old Peruvian grandmother began talking to me I started to believe I didn’t speak any Spanish at all. Thankfully our chef, who was only selling potatoes and chicharrones (fried pork belly), alerted me of the different dialects they speak up in the mountains. Watching my new olden friend, I noticed the way to eat the food was with our hands and when they offered us silverware, Analeise and I decided to turn them down and follow suit. “It tastes better when you eat it with your hands,” they told us in Spanish. This must have either been a popular hidden spot or the only place open because soon there were 10 other tourists in this small self made restaurant. Finishing with our meal, which was very difficult to chew through, we jumped in a collectivo towards Maras Moray and then into another towards Cusco.
I’ll hurry through the next couple of days because, unfortunately, I don’t have any more photos to share with them (and my one typing hand hurts). Once we arrived back in Cusco it was time to do a bit of shopping. We went towards the huge, well-known San Pedro market and purchased colorful scarves claiming to be “real alpaca hair”. Now, if you want the real stuff you will need to cough up a lot more sols. If you’re content with the cheaper quality like I am then make sure you try your hand at bartering down the price as much as possible. The sellers know you have money and they will take full advantage of it. I hope you have more luck than Analeise and I did! Though I will say, my two lama sweaters, five scarves (perfect gifts!), and blanket (all certainly for less than $100) were all worth it.
On our last day in Cusco, we started out slowly by perching up on a second floor coffee shop that offered free Wi-Fi and enormous fruit smoothies (not free) and overlooked the Center. There we sat and people watched while planning our next trip (which I had to miss because of my broken wrist). If you take anything out of my Peru posts let it be this: do the free walking tours! I was skeptical at first because group activities make me anxious, but trust me, it is so incredibly worth it! That afternoon we participated in one and I wish we had down it on our first day. There was so much information I missed and I’m ashamed I would have continued to walk around blindly if Analeise hadn’t mentioned it (she’s the social one between us two). If you’re still interested in alpaca hair items, the tour will take you to Artesanias Asunta, which offers the softest, best quality items for the lowest prices. Plus she gives you a discount if you mention the walking tours! After the tour, I wish I had even more time to explore Cusco and its museums. Next time! (Because I’m definitely, without a single doubt, going back.
I’ll go over our quick afternoon in Lima along with the complete, simplified itinerary of our 8 day backpacking trip to Cusco and Lima, Peru with prices and tips. If you got through all of this ridiculously long post, just know I appreciate you so, so much. Thank you for supporting my blog and my (sometimes silly) blog posts. I hope to continue doing this for a long time to come. For anyone that asked for my complete Peru itinerary, don’t worry- it’s next, I promise! (Don’t forget I only have one working hand so it might take a little time).
Until next time, friends!
Mary, I love your blog! You’re travels are exciting and inspiring! I’ve always wanted to go to Peru so I’ll keep this in mind! Also you’ve kinda inspired me to start my own blog, so thanks for that! Good luck with your arm!
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